Maeve O’Dea Interview
This is file #18, cycle 4. Today’s date is August 9, 2019. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Maeve O’Dea who is a staff member at Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. She is going to talk about her job, the structure and anything else pertaining to that foundation. But first we’ll begin with the difficult stuff…
JM:What is your name?
MO’D:My name is Maeve O’Dea
JM:How did you come to Lakeville from Cork, Ireland?
MO’D: My brother came here before I did. I would come to visit him from time to time. On one of those visits I met the man who is now my husband. We moved over here in 1991.
JM:When did you join the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation?
MO’D: In 1992
JM:How did you find out about it?
MO’D:The Lakeville Journal (See Janet Manko interview) I was looking for a job and they were looking for a person.
JM:What was your job description?
MO’D:It was assistant to the Executive Director.
JM:Is that the same position you hold now?
MO’D:No, now I am Program Director. My job now is to oversee all grant making for the Foundation.
JM:Who were the founders?
MO’D:The founders were Robert Blum, along with Dana Creel, Bill Olsen, Carl Stoeker, and Don T. Warner.
JM:What is the area that you serve currently?
MO’D:It is the northwest corner of Litchfield County, the northeast corner of Duchess County in New York, all of Columbia County in New York, and all of Berkshire County in Massachusetts.
JM:How long has the foundation existed?
MO’D:The foundation began in 1987.
JM:How many staff members presently?
MO’D:There are 19.2.
JM:Now we get into the tricky part. The structure has grants and funds?
MO’D:The structure has funds that make up the grants.
JM:Let’s talk about grants first. What kind of grants do you have?
MO’D:We have many different types of grants. We have grants that people can apply for: there are competitive grants which are given out through our area funds which are funds that have a particular geographic area focus, our scholarship funds, education enrichment funds, and some field on interest funds as for instance funds for artists. We have a fund for the environment. Other grants are recommended by donor advisors. They are people who have created funds at the foundation to be used for charitable giving. Other grants are more pro-active; that is where the foundation identifies where there is a need for funding. They then either create or support programming for that need. For instance our Northwest Corner Fund is currently focused on the opioid abuse epidemic: all of their funding is going towards that issue. That supports a curriculum in all of the middle schools in Region #1 with people from the McCall Foundation of Torrington.
JM:I think that you said that with grants about 50% are donor grants, competitive grants are about 25% and leadership grants about 25%.
MO’D:Those are my estimates.
JM:You mentioned area funds with the Northwest Corner opioid, you mentioned Southern and Central Berkshire. Could you give me an example of some of the managed funds that are investment services?
MO’D:Some of our funds are held for non-profit organizations; in the Northwest Corner we have funds for Women’s Support Services, Hotchkiss Library in Sharon. In those cases the funds are invested through the foundation. Over all of our assets together, we have about 150 million dollars so we have a very sophisticated process. The organizations call on those funds annually to support their operation.
JM:In general what is an advisory committee do?
MO’D:Particularly for our area funds or field of interest funds or education funds these have committees made up of community residents who recommend funding to the foundation. Because we have such a large and dispersed geographic area, it is not feasible for the Board of Directors to review every single grant application or to know what is really best for every corner of our catchment area. Our board relies on these advisory committee members to know what is really needed in their community and what is the best use of the funding. Typically there is an annual funding cycle where those committees review grant applications: they are looking at reports from previous grants, often times they are going out to visit programs. Then they come together with staff to make their recommendations. That goes back to the board for their next meeting.
JM:How many people are on your Board of Directors?3.
MO’D:We are now at 23 or 25 at the moment. Those are people from the four counties that we serve.
JM:For the Board of Directors how many years make a term?
MO’D:Three 3 years terms with nine years total.
JM:Then do the board members go off the board or can you go back on again?
MO’D:You could, no one has done that yet. What more typically happens it that you will continue to serve on a committee.
JM:So you go from the board to a committee>
JM:Using all the expertise you can get.
MO’D:We need every bit of it.
JM:How are you funded?
MO’D:We are funded through the community: it is really people who want to support their communities and to make them better. They create funds in the foundation or they give money to existing funds. We have gifts large and small from well under $100 up to $1,000,000 and everything in between.
JM:Do you have an endowment?
MO’D:Yes we do have an endowment for operations.
JM:Do you get funds from other foundations?
MO’D: We do get funds from other foundations for particular programs. Currently we have a major initiative in Berkshire County around the arts: it is called ”Art Builds Community”. This engaged with our strategic priority of community engagement. We are working with arts and culture organizations to connect their offerings with underserved populations, people of color, immigrants, and low income people. This is done through grant-making and also through the capacity building program for those organizations.
JM:Who is the President right now?
MO’D:The President is Peter Taylor. This is his fourth year. He came to us from the Maine Community Foundation. He is much steeped on our work.
JM:You have a new gentleman who has just been named.
MO’D:We do. Joe Baker is our new Vice President. He came to us from the Fairfield County Community Foundation. He is moving to the area.
JM:How do donors find out about the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation?
MO’D:That is a really good question. There are lots of different ways. Sometimes it is through our constituent funds. We hold the Jane Lloyd Fund (See Tanya Tedder interview) so people might be giving to that for people with cancer who need help with their basic needs. Their donation goes into the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation for the Jane Lloyd Fund. There are other people who find us through their professional advisors. We work quite a bit with attorneys and accountants, especially if people are making their estate plans. They might consider a community foundation. Sometime they know there is a particular organization that they want to support. Sometimes they might want to leave money for education or the arts so a community foundation is very well positioned to implement that funding.
JM:What are some new programs for the future other than the opioid focus?
MO’D:Right now one area is the “Arts Builds Community”. We also are engaging in an educational attainment priority. It is very interesting because we have a consultant educator who is researching county by county as to what is happening around educational attainment and where philanthropy could make a measurable difference.
JM:What do you mean by educational attainment?
MO’D:The idea is that if you have an education you are better able to economic opportunities.
JM:Is it for slow learners, gifted & talented, academically challenged? What is it for?
MO’D:It is not proscriptive at this point. We are looking at county by county.
JM:It is more a study at this point.
MO’D:Yes, in Northeast Duchess where we started with this work, we have just given funding to the Boces Vocational Training School in Duchess County to hire a school work coordinator-to-work coordinator who will be starting next week. She’ll be focusing particularly on Webatuck, Dover, Millbrook, and Pine Plains School Districts. We are looking at the students who are not necessarily going straight on to college. What kind of training can they receive while they are in high school to better position them to get a good job when they leave high school.
JM:What haven’t I asked you that I should?
MO’D:The other thing that I neglected to mention is our Center for Non-Profit Excellence. That is a series of seminars and programs for non-profits to help do their work. Our work is through non-profit partners. We want them to be as good as possible. We have for many years offered a non-profit
learning program which is focused on a team of staff and board members who look at governance and fundraising. We think we are very successful.
Last year we started our first board leadership forum which was held at Simon’s Rock. We are going to do that every other year. Again that has a focus on board members pertaining to governance, fund raising and strategic planning-all the good things people need to know.
Then there is our Neighbor to Neighbor Fund which is unusual for us because most of our funds, through grant making, are endowments. Our Neighbor to Neighbor Fund is different because it is money in and money out. Donors give to this program to help people in times of crisis in their life. We are very flexible in term of how the funding is used: perhaps it will get the car fixed, or prescriptions filled, or the electric back on or prevent it being turned off. WE don’t get the funding directly, but we work with social services in each of the towns (See Patrice McGrath interview) in the Northwest Corner. These small grants can make a difference.
JM: Wonderful. Is there anything else you would like to add?
MO’D:No that’s it.
JM:OK thank you so much.
MO’D:You are welcome.
(Local organizations which are helped by BTCF are:
Family Services: See Patrice McGrath interview
Housatonic Youth Service Bureau: See interviews by, Cynthia Bianchi, Nick Pohl, and Linda Sloane #1
Chore Service: See interviews by Ella Clark, and Pat Wright
Jane Lloyd Fund: See interviews by Jeff Lloyd, Tanya Tedder, and Caroline Burchfield
SOAR: See interviews by Janet block and Amy Clulow
For more about BTCF: see interview by Alice Yoakum ED.)